In this question I am trying to understand the nature of colors in scanning cross-processed films. I've thought that I'm okay with photoshop, with subtractive and additive colors etc etc etc, but somehow this is (at least :) one thing that I can't get. So,

First image is the result of the lab scanner (some kinda expensive Kodak film scanner). The colors are simply great: vivid and orthogonal. The contrast is so-so, that's why I've tried to re-scan the image with my home Epson V700 scanner and standard Epson Scan software. You can see the result on image N2. The details are finer, but the colors are way pale. I bet this is not the saturation only, since there is much less blue then on the lab scan. I've tried to recreate the lab results in photoshop (image N3), but with a very limited success: the blue is still not there.

I know that I use the simplest program, maybe some more sophisticated software would help me to get the results, but my question is more theoretical: what happens in the software of expensive scanners, what is that function that allows to get those way different colors? Why the lab scanner is capable to reproduce the colors so vividly? What can I do (in Epson Scan or in Photoshop) to get closer to the results from the lab?


Update: No, simply adding the blue/cyan filter and darkening the exposure doesn't provide satisfying results. First, the brightest sky remain pale/white, second yellows will be dramatically affected.

Update N2: Tried to scan with different exposure setting. Still the colors are not even similar to the lab scan (image N4), even after photosho (image N5).

Scanning Lab My Scan My Scan after Photoshop My Second Scan enter image description here

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    It almost looks to me like the scans are simply 'overexposed'. Can you control the brightness of the scanner lamp? – ElendilTheTall Jun 13 '11 at 8:09
  • Kindly see an update. – BreakPhreak Jun 13 '11 at 8:17

A great deal of what's going on here is really just color management/matching/profiling.

Different films have rather specific "looks", and to get the best out of each, you just about have to profile the scanner with each film. That was common/typical with the high-end professional scanners. If memory serves, some even scanned the bar code that's on the edge of most film so they could automatically identify the film and use the correct profile for it.

Most film scanners sold for consumer use were rather a different story -- quite a few didn't provide any profiles at all, leaving it up to the user to match colors as well as they could by eye. The few I saw that did include profiles were almost worse: they included one profile for the scanner in general, with no attempt at taking into account the film being scanned. Most of these did a halfway decent job on a few of the most popular mainstream films, but otherwise they were generally pretty bad (and the exceptions I saw to that seemed to be pretty bad at everything).

At least in theory, I suppose you could do a profile yourself, in much the same way you'd profile a digital camera: take a picture of something like a Macbeth color checker with the film in question, scan it through the scanner, and figure out the adjustments necessary to get the original colors.

I'm not at all sure how much good that'll do for cross-processing though -- here you're going for a particular effect that definitely does not include the colors being entirely accurate. From the look of your pictures, I'm guessing that you're running E6 film through C41 processing. If that's the case, a really good E6 profile may be sufficient to the job -- but I've done very little with scanning cross-processed film, so that's only a guess.

  • photo.stackexchange.com/questions/2624/… - well, as far as I've got from here, "all I need" to reproduce the lab colors is a color profile of the lab printer (and as well its color scanning capabilities), right? So, in fact, it is pretty impossible to get the same-or-similar colors out of the box, is it? Especially if it's about cross processed film (slide film E6, developed via C41) where color shifts are common and white balance is never correct. Am I right, please? – BreakPhreak Jun 18 '11 at 19:58
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    @BreakPhreak: To be able to scan and print the picture, you'd probably need profiles for both the scanner and printer, yes. Yes, I'd guess doing that is probably going to be really difficult, even at best. – Jerry Coffin Jun 19 '11 at 3:09
  • Answer accepted. A final question for the exhaustive completeness, (IF I may) though: I've seen in the scanning program something called like "color profile", where a hexagons arranged within an RGB-CMY circle are displayed, where you can "fix" every color toward one of the RGB-CMY tones. Do you know which tool I am talking about? Reminds me about something like "selective color" in Photoshop, but for the scanning phase. Will such a tool be useful in my case? How easy it should be to get my hands on it? Any other related tips will be most welcomed. – BreakPhreak Jun 19 '11 at 5:47
  • @BreakPhreak: It's a bit hard to guess -- it's been long enough since I used my slide scanner that I can't remember which tools had which interfaces. That said, if you haven't tried out VueScan, it would probably be my first choice as an alternative to Epson's software. – Jerry Coffin Jun 19 '11 at 14:36

I think that in looking at the software you are overlooking something really important: The hardware.

Different scanners, as with different cameras, use different sensor elements. You do not specify the model of the lab scanner, but let's assume it is the KODAK Professional RFS 3570 Film Scanner, you can buy a second-hand one of these for about £1.7k. Your "home" scanner is about £370 of equipment, based on prices on "Google shopping" just now.

Now... Think about digital cameras, think about, for example, the imaging device in the Canon 5D mk2 which retails at about £1.7k, body only, in comparison with the imaging device in the Canon G12, which retails at about £370 (do you see what I did there?).

The smaller, cheaper imaging device, with smaller pixels in the G12 is perfectly good for most people's use. In fact, compared to most compact cameras it offers outstanding results. But if you compare the image from the G12 to the 5D2 what will you see? More noise, less faithful colour reproduction and less good black and white points.

You're seeing the same thing by comparing a perfectly adequate home scanner with a pro-scanner. Although you're not happy with the contrast from the Kodak scanner this can be altered via the "Change contrast" settings in the driver, and obviously, with post-processing in Photoshop.

  • Hello and thanks for paying an attention to my post :) Yes, I clearly understand that the cheaper devices produce different results. However, my story is not about getting more details in the dense x-pro film (in that the more expensive scanner would probably be able to squeeze more results). I suppose that the answer of my question is in color management domain. I think (not sure though) that when you are scanning - then there is kinda display with hexagons and RGB+CMY circle (color profile?) - I think that this tool probably does the job. Not sure why, not sure how. – BreakPhreak Jun 18 '11 at 7:50

My conclusio after investigations and a lot of trying on my own is, that labs are using Software mostly set to auto-correct the image (e.g whitebalance, tinting). Thats why sometimes images of the same roll are looking different in color cast, depending on how "good" the Software was able to calculate whitebalance etc.

Scanning cross processed film at home (without auto correction) always results in intense color shifts (depending on film type). From there on it's up to post processing, your style, your creativity. Keep that color shift, reduce it, remove it, amplify it. Make the colors more vivid or less - it's up to you. Don't let a machine choose that. Especially Cross Processing is a very creative process, you do a lot of decisions while forming the image to a picture.

The reason why there is a color cast is because after processing E6 films in C-41 chemicals there will remain dye on the base layer of the film. Obviously the C-41 chemicals are not capable of removing it. This color depends on the film type. For example: the "Agfaphoto Precisia CT 100" will have a purple dye afer developing. Inverting this after scanning results in a green cast (like your pictures).

See the mighty Cross Process Color Wheel: Cross Process Color Wheel

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